Starting collaboration in the mid-1990s and formally founded in 2000, Despang Architekten is a “glocal” design practice located in Dresden-Radebeul in Saxony, Munich-Oberhaching in Bavaria and Hannover in Lower Saxony / Germany and with an academic platform in Honolulu Hawai'i / USA ( University of Hawai'i Manoa).
Despang Architekten´s passion and intention is to help reestablish the relevance of and the respect for architecture in society. With high appreciation for the exclusive architectural avant-garde, their concern and focus is towards the other 90%, that is, the average, everyday architectural typologies which are in desperate need of rejuvenation in order to contribute to an improved quality of life for as many people as possible.
Despang Architekten’s “bottom up” strategy focuses on the evolution of the architectural species of the ordinary, rather than the extraordinary.Despang Architekten believes that in a world of increased specialization, the greatest potential of architecture is to remain in the most general domain, within which the architect, acting as specialist, coordinates the collaborating partners and orchestrates both the poetic and pragmatic issues of a more-complex-than-ever (built) world.
Strategically committed to diversity, Despang Architekten works both academically and professionally within an intentionally broad spectrum of considerably ordinary building types. With his belief that architecture is the spatial-ization, and eventual formalization of human activity, Martin’s typological investigation through critical practice encompasses an array of human events: relaxing, displaying, working, dwelling, multidwelling, wayfinding, dining, producing, welcoming, serving, branding…
Areas in which he has particularly focused and has gained global recognition and expertise include the internationally identified (and recently stimulus funded) priority fields of playing/learning (K-12 educational design), commuting/travelling (public transportation) and shopping (decentralized daily supply infrastructure). With a focus toward applied research, Martin Despang along with his father Günther, his sister Cynthia and her partner Isabel, founded the firm “Despang Architekten,” which purposes using typological prototyping as the investigative methodology for such case studies as kindergartens / schools, tram stations and community grocery facilities. Despang Architekten, through rigorous, peer-reviewed assessments, received acclaim as “street fighters of architecture, who peacefully fight the lack of meaning of the contemporary average environment,” as stated by the chair of the jury of a Lower Saxony States Award for the design of their community grocery structure.
Despang Architekten´s unique disciplinary ability to hybridize quantifiable pragmatism and qualitative poetry is demonstrated as evidence-based design at the internationally published and awarded ILMASI school for mentally disabled children, whose users have attested to the physical and psychological well-being of the children attending school there.
This 40,000SF public school experiment in solid wood tectonics and cutting edge Thermally Modified Timber-cladding technology informed the expertise of Despang Architekten, and greatly influenced Martin´s teaching focus on customized manifestations of the architectural idea through materialization. The uniqueness of the typological prototyping approach is matched by prototypical tectonic and technological solutions which are tailored to the specific individual requirements. Such case studies have served to generate strong bonds with the material manufacturing communities in the categories of wood, ceramics, metal, concrete, glass and plastics, which provide academic funding potential and feed directly into the classroom as a theoretical adjunction to the university’s material libraries.
Despang Architekten’s inter-cultural and inter-technological approach as a thinking global and acting local “practicator” increasingly addresses the relevant notion of a “postfossil” society. Professionally and academically an expert in the coexisting models of urban and rural sustainability since the construction of his “Ecowoodbox Kindergarten” (featured in Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture), Martin has proactively committed to the “Passive House Standard” with the strict 15 KWh per square meter per year requirement, which the European Union has decided to implement for new buildings from 2010 on and for public buildings from 2018 on. Working against the inflationary use of the “sustainability” terminology, through Martin Despang Architekten strategically seeked out for the research platform of the University of Hawaii because of their genuine long term commitment to the aspects of bioclimatic design and UHM´s leadership in addressing the unmatched challenge for the profession to equally emphasize biotechnological and core valued architectural performance, striving towards buildings which feel and look as good as, or even better, than they perform.
Despang Architekten is practicing what they were taught through their typological and tectonical prototyping, and what they continue to teach – that the consistency of (smartly, silently, subtly sustainable) architectural quality throughout conception, development, and execution can not only enhances society´s awareness and appreciation for architecturally engineered Baukultur / culture of the built environment, but also make life better for all of us.
All photographs (unless indicated differently) Olaf Baumann/ Hannover